US 7757836 B2
Apparatuses and methods for coating, topping, and conveying foods. The apparatus includes a first frame, spring assemblies, a vibrating assembly including an upper pan, a middle pan, a lower pan, and a second frame mounted to the lower pan with the spring assemblies. The second frame is an excited frame and the upper pan, the middle pan, the lower pan are vibrationally connected. The apparatus also includes a vibratory drive unit mounted and adapted to impart energy to the second frame. In addition, the apparatus has a wire conveyor belt assembly including a wire conveyor belt, and a housing that receives the wire conveyor belt. The wire conveyor belt assembly is suspended inside of the vibratory assembly by the first frame such that the wire conveyor belt assembly is isolated from the vibratory assembly.
1. An apparatus comprising:
a first frame;
a vibrating assembly including an upper pan, a middle pan, a lower pan, and a second frame mounted to the lower pan with the spring assemblies, the second frame being an excited frame and the upper pan, the middle pan, the lower pan being vibrationally connected;
a vibratory drive unit mounted and adapted to impart energy to the second frame; and
a wire conveyor belt assembly including a wire conveyor belt, and a housing that receives the wire conveyor belt, the wire conveyor belt assembly being suspended inside of the vibratory assembly by the first frame such that the wire conveyor belt assembly is isolated from the vibratory assembly.
2. The apparatus of
3. The apparatus of
4. The apparatus of
a distributor subassembly comprising:
channels that connect the distributor to the middle pan, and
a trough that connects the distributor to the upper pan.
5. The apparatus of
bottom wall, wherein the front wall includes an opening therein, wherein the bottom wall includes a series of angled slots formed partially in the bottom wall and partially in the inner walls, wherein the front wall is contiguous with a pair of inner walls, the intersection of the front wall and the inner walls defining side edges of the opening; and
a distribution structure comprising an angled, wall-like structure arising from the bottom wall.
This application claims priority under 35 U.S.C. §119(e) to U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/940,247, filed May 25, 2007, and under 35 U.S.C. §120 to and is a continuation-in-part of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/396,202, filed Mar. 30, 2006 and claiming priority to U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 60/667,405 filed on Apr. 1, 2005, the entireties of both of which are incorporated by reference herein.
The field of invention includes food coating, food topping, and food conveying equipment.
Prepared food products come in a wide variety of styles. Many prepared food products, whether ready-to-eat or those needing further cooking, are prepared with a coating that makes the food product more appealing. Such prepared food products include entrees, appetizers, desserts (such as pastries, donuts), etc., and includes meats, cheese, fruit and vegetables, etc. The types of coatings used on these food products include dry coatings such as flour, bread crumbs, corn meal, sugar and spice and the like. While the automation of the food coating process is economically desirable, another goal of the food coating process is to make the coating appear to be “home-made.” However, most automatic food coating processes fail to make “home-style” appearing foods.
Prepared food products also include foods having one or more topping applied to one or more sides of the food product. Such prepared food products include pizzas, pretzels, fish or other meat patties, and the like. The types of toppings used on these food products include cheese, mushrooms, sausage, sugar and cinnamon, spices, breadings, salt, and the like.
Some food products have a batter applied to them before the coating or topping is applied. When a batter applicator is used before the coating or topping is applied, time is saved when both the batter applicator and the coating or topping run at the same or similar speed. This provides a continuous flow of food product during both processes.
In the commercial production of prepared foods, a large variety of food products are machine-coated with breading, flour or the like before being fried, (or otherwise cooked) or simply frozen and packaged. In the food preparation industry, food coatings are generally classified by appearance as flour breading, free flowing (such as cracker meal or bread crumbs), and Japanese-style crumbs which tend to be elongate and crispy. Food coatings may also include seasonings, spices, shortening, etc., as needed to add flavor and texture to the food product. Other coatings such as ground cereal, dried vegetables or the like may also be employed.
Each coating mixture has inherent characteristics that presents challenges to machinery used to automatically and mechanically coat food products. For example, flour mixtures, which consist of finely ground dust-like particles, have a tendency to pack under pressure thereby decreasing the free-flow properties of the coating mixture around the food product, which can decrease coating uniformity. Similarly, coating mixtures recognized as free-flowing include reasonably hard and roughly spherical particles ranging in size from dust to larger particles, such as cornmeal, cracker meal or the like. Free-flowing mixtures in automated coating processes can often flow or leak out of the machinery.
Japanese-style crumbs have no uniform shape, are very delicate, and are crystalline-like in nature and appearance. So, the coating machine should be able to properly handle this type of breading material to avoid degradation of the quality and particle sizes thereof. Japanese-style crumbs consist of modified wheat flour with small percentages of yeast, salt, sugar, vegetable oil and other additives. The Japanese style crumbs appear to be dried shredded white bread having particles ranging in size from as large as ½ inch to as small as flour size particles.
Generally, the food industry prefers to use an automated and continuous food coating process wherever possible while still achieving a “home-style” look. Continuous processes include: tumble drums and mesh belt processes. The tumble drum operation has a hollow drum or tumbling device that is fed with a coating mixture and food products, and it is rotated so that the food product is tumbled in the coating in a manner which causes the coating material to contact and adhere to the outer surfaces of the food. After a sufficient contacting time (generally determined by the size, speed of rotation and internal drum structure) the food items are discharged for further processing.
The drum coating also has its drawbacks. Principally, mechanical handling of the food items may be quite rigorous limiting its use to robust products. More delicate food items (such as fish) may not be suitable for drum processing.
Other types of food coating devices employ endless mesh belts. For example, U.S. Pat. No. 6,117,235 discloses a continuous coating and breading apparatus which includes a conveyor belt made of stainless steel mesh. The conveyor has various stations along its length. Food items are deposited on the belt at an infeed area and are coated with the coating mixture on the bottom surface. The conveyor belt carries the food items under a “waterfall” of food coating that covers the top surface of the food items. The conveyor passes under one or more pressure rolls that pat the coating mixture onto the food pieces, and/or a blow off device, removing excess coating. The coated food product is deposited at a discharge area. In commercial practice, such systems may employ as many as six conveying belts to spread the coating mixture and achieve acceptable consistent operation and performance.
Other types of food coating devices use multiple augers to distribute coatings and/or toppings to various parts of the device. Oftentimes, six or more augers or other conveying devices are used to spread coatings and/or toppings. This results in a complex device with numerous drives. These types of devices are also difficult to clean. Furthermore, augers degrade coatings and toppings, and are dangerous.
A breading machine was available from A. K. Robins and Company, Baltimore, Md. The machine was marketed as the Robins Vibro Batter and Breading Machine. As shown in FIG. 1546-5 of the product literature, the vibrator was mounted directly to the coating pan. The coating pan was mounted to a frame using springs. The frame was mounted to the floor and was operated at a very high amplitude and low frequency.
The present invention overcomes at least some of the disadvantages associated with the prior machines by providing an excited frame and pan assembly capable of dramatically improved coating of a wide range of food items at relatively high frequency and low amplitude.
The present invention overcomes at least some of the disadvantages associated with the prior machines by providing an excited frame and pan assembly along with a wire belt conveyor that conveys food product.
As shown in
The upper elongate pan assembly 12 includes an upper pan 14 having sidewalls 16 to contain a coating, such as free-flowing aggregate breading. The assembly 12 further includes an upper transverse distribution means 18 preferably a tapered, angular, wall-like structure to facilitate distribution (i.e., transversely) of coating across the distal portion of the upper pan 14.
As shown in
As shown in
The excited frame assembly 10 includes a lower pan 48 having a screen 50 located in the distal portion of the lower pan 48. A transverse funnel 1001 and tray 99 (see also
The lower pan 48 further includes a soft roller assembly 66 adapted to be rotationally actuated by 2 opposing ratchet assemblies 68 (opposing assembly 80 partially shown in
Preferably, the ratchet 78 is one-way locking steel with needle-roller bearings. Actuation of the ratchet assembly 68 is provided by the vibrational movement of the excited frame 10. Another ratchet assembly 80 (shown partially in
As shown in
In a preferred embodiment shown in
For example, given a natural frequency (Fn in cycles per minute) and pan mass (m in pounds-mass) (i.e., the total mass of the upper elongate pan assembly 12 and the lower pan 48 and attached components thereof), the sum of all the individual spring constants (ΣK in pounds per inch) is equal to the number of springs (assuming each spring has the same constant) multiplied by (πFn/30)2(m/386). Thus, the spring constant for each spring is ΣK divided by the number of springs. In an exemplary embodiment, the spring constant is 280 pounds/inch, the width of each spring is around 2½ inches, the length of each spring is around 11 inches and the thickness of each spring is about ¼ inch. In terms of overall design, the spring constant is designed such that the operating frequency is 20-40% of Fn, and preferably around 33% Fn.
The excited frame assembly 10 further includes a motorized vibrator assembly 88 mounted to the excited frame 84. The motorized vibrator assembly 88 is adapted to impart energy to the excited frame 84 at an angle β below horizontal. In a preferred embodiment, the assembly 88 includes a motor 90 coupled to an eccentric vibrator and housing 92. The eccentric vibrator may be a QE Quadra-Eccentric Vibrator Model QE512-F available from Renold Ajax of Westfield, N.Y. or a pair of Rotary Electrics (see second embodiment).
The coating recycle assembly 94 also includes a recycle hopper 103 mounted to the frame 100 and positioned such that recycled coating is funneled into the distributor 36. (See also
The drag-chain belt 110 may be constructed from polypropylene, polyethylene, acetal, detectable polypropylene or the like. An exemplary drag-chain belt 110 is a Series 800 Open Hinge Impact Resistant Flight model available from Intralox, LLC of Harahan, La. A feed hopper 120 mounted to a channel cover 122 is provided to charge or feed coating into the recycle assembly 94.
To begin operation, the motorized vibrator assembly 88 and recycle motor 112 are activated. The speed of the vibrator assembly 88 is adjusted to achieve a predetermined frequency and amplitude. Coating is charged into the feed hopper 120 which is distributed throughout the system. Preferably, food product is fed to the breader apparatus by placing it on a layer of coating in the lower pan 48 downstream from the transverse distribution means 64 and prior to an area where coating falls from the waterfall distributor member 22.
As shown in
Although the apparatus discussed above does not include a wire belt to convey food product and instead conveys food product by vibratory movement, it may be desirable to include a wire conveyor belt 326 to convey food product along the apparatus.
In addition, it may be desirable for the apparatus to not only coat food product with a coating, but also be capable of applying one or more topping to one or more sides of the food product, such as the topside of a food product. Such prepared food products include pizzas, pretzels, fish, cheese, fruit, vegetables, or other meat patties, and the like. The types of toppings used on these food products include cheese, mushrooms, sausage, sugar and cinnamon, spices, breadings, salt, and the like.
Toward this end, referring to
The apparatus 204 includes three conveying devices: a vibrating assembly 206 with a distribution hopper and pans, a wire conveyor belt assembly 398, and a coating recycle assembly 294. Although the coating recycle assembly 294 does not include the term topping in its name, it should be understood that topping could also be recycled by assembly 294.
The apparatus can be powered with hydraulic motors, electric motors, or a combination of the two. The illustrated apparatus includes an electric panel 325 for powering one or more electric motors. In one embodiment, the entire apparatus is powered with two drives, i.e., an electric or hydraulic drive for the coating recycle assembly and an electric drive for vibrating the vibrating assembly 206. In contrast, previous apparatuses required up to eight drives. An exemplary hydraulic motor that can be used to run the coating recycle assembly 294 and wire conveyor belt 326 is a Model 103-1420 hydraulic motor available from Eaton Corporation, or the like.
The Vibrating Assembly
Referring now to
The upper pan 214 has a structure similar to the upper pan 14 of the first embodiment. The upper pan 214 includes an upper transverse distribution means 218.
In addition, as is shown in
The vibrating assembly 206 further includes a distributor subassembly 234 comprising a distributor 236 for receiving coating and/or topping. The well 236 includes 2 prongs (not shown) for breaking up unsuitably large clumps of coating and/or topping that may form in the distributor 236. The subassembly 234 further includes 2 channels 242, 244 for transferring coating from the distributor 236 to the middle pan 324 for sending coating to the wire conveyor belt assembly 398 for coating the underside of food product (where desired). The subassembly 234 still further includes a trough 246 for transferring coating from the distributor 236 to the upper pan 214 surface.
The lower pan 248 includes a scalping screen 328 located in the distal portion thereof. As is best shown in
The scalping screen 328 separates larger pieces or aggregates of coating and/or topping from smaller pieces thereof. Vibrations drive larger pieces up the scalping screen 328 to the opening 346 in the front wall 342 thereof. The larger pieces pass through the opening 346 and can then be collected and discarded with a diagonal wall diverter 353 to a side discharge 347, if desired. Although the side discharge 347 is shown on one side of the apparatus, it could alternatively be located on the other side with the diagonal wall diverter 353 pointing the opposite direction. The side discharge 347 transfers the larger pieces to waste. Mixing of batter or other liquid and the coating and/or topping can cause larger pieces to form. The scalping screen 328 allows separation and removal of these pieces. The smaller pieces fall through the scalping screen 328 and fall off the distal end of a bottom pan 351, which is located under the scalping screen 328.
Referring back to
Still referring to
A cross conveyor 336 (
Referring now to
Wire Conveyor Belt Assembly
Referring now to
The wire conveyor belt 236 includes an upper conveying surface 412 and a lower conveying surface 414. The arcuate groove 409 allows reorientation of the upper surface 412 with respect to the lower conveying surface 414 and thus, reorientation of the wire conveyor belt 326. Placing the drive shaft 400 at the upper end of the arcuate groove 409 results in food product moving off the upper conveying surface 412 and landing on the lower conveying surface 414 with the side of the food product that contacted the upper conveying surface 412 now being opposite the side of the product that contacts the lower conveying surface 414. That is, food product is flipped when it transfers from the upper conveying surface 412 onto the lower conveying surface 412. A benefit of flipping food product is that when coatings or toppings are lightweight and airy materials, such as flour, flipping food product removes unattached coatings or toppings.
In one embodiment, the wire conveyor belt 236 is a 24×0.072 Mesh (½″ pitch) from Wire Belt Company of America of Londonderry, N.H. However, the wire conveyor belt 236 used in the apparatus can be of different size depending upon, among other things, the size of the food product conveyed on the belt. The wire conveyor belt 236 can have a width of 24 inches, 34 inches, 42 inches, or any other desired width.
Referring now to
The Coating Recycle Assembly
Referring now to
In an embodiment, the drag-chain belt 310 of the recycle assembly 294 is a solid synthetic with tracking lugs (or drive cogs) on the back of the drag-chain belt 310 and flights on the opposite side. In one embodiment, the cogs are molded onto the back of the drag-chain belt 310. This provides the benefit of eliminating crevices, fissures, hinges or other structures where coatings and/or topping can become lodged and impede cleaning of the belt. An exemplary belt that can be used on the apparatus is a SuperDrive from Volta of Karmiel, Ill. Another exemplary belt that can be used on the apparatus is a plastic flighted a Series 800 Open Hinge Impact Resistant Flight model available from Intralox, LLC of Harahan, La. However, this belt is a segmented, plastic, modular belt that cannot be used in certain applications, such as dairy. When compared to a modular link style plastic belting, the solid synthetic belt provides the advantage of being easier to clean. The drag-chain belt 310 can be made of polyester thermal plastic or polyurethane or the like. The drag-chain belt 310 is four-cornered. In one embodiment, the flights are 6 inches by 6 inches. The flights are oriented such that free ends thereof point toward an outer edge of the stainless steel channel 308 structure.
One corner of the drag-chain belt 310 is driven by a sprocketed drive that engages the cogs, and the other three corners have 90 degree rollers, forming a conveyor rectangle. The sprocketed drive is received on a drive shaft having a square cross section where it engages the sprocketed drive. A snap ring captures the sprocketed drive onto the drive shaft. The drive shaft cross section transitions to a round cross section away from the sprocketed drive. An overhung load adaptor and a motor, such as a hydraulic motor are mounted on the drive shaft at this point for rotating the drive shaft. Previous apparatuses included multiple belts that were driven by multiple drives.
The conveyor includes an upper length 324, a lower length 304, an ascending portion 424, and a descending portion 426. The upper length 324 includes an opening (not shown) in the stainless steel channel 308 so that recycled coating falls into the recycle hopper 303.
The drag-chain belt 310 provides the following advantages. Unlike a belt having two corners, the four corners of the drag-chain belt 310 permits the drag-chain belt 310 to be wrapped around a machine, such as the excited frame assembly 210 and upper elongate pan assembly 212, thereby saving plant floor space.
The flighted belt minimizes product damage and product spillage cause by previous recycle techniques. In previous apparatuses, coating and/or topping was moved from one belt to another or from one auger to another, leading to damage and spillage of coating and/or topping, both of which cost plants money and time.
The drag-chain belt 310 conveys coating and/or topping in three directions, i.e., collection along the lower length 304, elevation along the ascending portion 424, and distribution along the upper length 324. Previous conveyors only elevated coating and/or topping.
The drag-chain belt 310 can be made from material that is easily cleanable, maintained, and moveable as a single item. Previous belts were made from materials lacking these qualities and oftentimes were made from multiple pieces.
The frame 300 differs from the frame 100 in that it includes distal vertical members 428, intermediate vertical members 430, and proximal vertical members 432, whereas the frame 100 only includes proximal vertical members. In addition, the frame 300 includes upper side members 434, 436 and upper transverse members 438, 440.
In one embodiment, the apparatus is used only to apply toppings to the topside of food product. The coating recycle assembly 294 is either not included in the apparatus or it is, but it is not used. However, recycle assembly 294 can be used if desired. In this embodiment, the channels 242, 244 are either not included or they are not used, such as by closing them. A non-limiting, exemplary example of a use of such an apparatus is for topping pizzas. For this, the excited frame assembly 210 and the upper pan assembly 212 do not need to be vibrated. The wire conveyor belt 326 moves the pizza along the apparatus. Toppings, such as cheese, pepperoni, and sausage, are applied with a fork-like spread that is described in U.S. Pat. No. 4,248,173, which is incorporated herein in its entirety.
To begin operation, the vibratory drive units 327, the recycle motor 312 and the wire belt motor 500, which drives shaft 400, are activated. Coating and/or topping is then fed in hopper 320 where it is carried by the drag chain 310 up the ascending portion 424 and across the upper length 324 of the recycle assembly 294. It is then deposited into hopper 303 through an opening in the center of the upper portion of channel 308. The coating and/or topping flow is then metered out of hopper 303 by adjustable openings where it is directed into distribution channels 242, 244, and trough 246. Channels 242 and 244 carry and deposit substantially equal amounts of coating and/or topping onto each side of the middle pan 324. This coating and/or topping is then spread across the width of the middle pan 324 by the use of a transverse distribution means (not shown) and/or with the assistance of a conveying device such as auger 336. This spread coating and/or topping is then carried forward by the vibratory action and is transferred onto belt 236. It is retained above the belt by the belt support pan 410.
Coating and/or topping which was discharged from hopper 303 into the upper distribution trough 246 is carried to the upper pan 214 were it is evenly spread by the upper transverse distribution means 218. The coating and/or topping is then run over the waterfall distributor member 222. The coating and/or topping then falls onto the food products which were deposited onto a layer of coating and/or topping being carried by wire conveyor belt 236 from the middle pan 324. The wire conveyor belt 236 then carries the coating and/or topping and products under cylinders rollers 270. At this point, belt support pan 410 ends and the excess coating and/or topping is allowed to drop through the wire conveyor belt 236 to scalping screen 328. Excess coating and/or topping which is carried on top of the food product is then blown off by two air manifold 282 and/or dislodged by flipping of food product from the upper conveying surface 412 to the lower conveying surface 414 of the wire conveyor belt 236. Wire conveyor belt 236 continues to carry the now coated and/or topped food product to the discharge of the apparatus.
The excess coating and/or topping which as fallen through the belt 236 and landed upon scalping screen 328 is now sifted due to the vibratory motion transmitted to it through sidewalls 322. The smaller fine crumbs fall through the sifter slots onto pan 248 were they are carried to the front of the machine and deposited into the lower section of the recycle conveyor 310. The coating and/or topping is then dragged by belt 310 inside of the trough to be deposited into hopper 303 again.
The larger pieces that are not able to fall through the slots 348 in scalping screen 328 are then collected at front of the machine and discharged out of one of the ports in sidewalls 322.
Additional advantages of the apparatus include, but are not limited to the following. The coating and/or topping can be transferred and spread using only three conveying devices, i.e., the vibrating pan, the wire belt conveyor, and the recycle assembly 294. In contrast, previous apparatuses required six or more conveying devices to transfer and spread coatings and/or toppings. The use of the vibratory pan eliminates the need for cross feed augers and large distribution augers.
In addition, the apparatus costs less to assemble and operate due to the relative simplicity of the equipment, the reduced number of drives, reduced breading degradation, and the ease of sanitation.
An apparatus having a wire conveyor belt 326 is advantageous because it increases the speed at which food product can move through the apparatus. In one embodiment, food product is conveyed at speeds less than or equal to 100 feet per minute (fpm), such as 60 fpm. In another embodiment, food product is conveyed at speeds less than or equal to 200 fpm. In addition, food product can be conveyed at speeds substantially equal to the food product conveyance speed of upstream food processing equipment, such as batter applicators, which oftentimes also include wire conveyor belts.
It also permits set spacing of food product going through the apparatus. This preserves the spacing of food product from upstream processes, such as batter applications. In contrast, vibrational conveyance of food products results in random spacing of food products. Preservation of food product spacing reduces or eliminates marriages of food products. Marriages have the undesirable effect of producing an uncoated portion of a food product where two or more food products touch. Not only does this result in a bad looking food product, the uncoated portion of a food product can result in more serious effects, such as leakage of food product during a frying process, resulting in bad food product and contamination of fryer oil. The uncoated food product can even produce fryer fires.
Additional advantages of including a wire belt conveyor 326 in an apparatus include eliminating food products from sticking to a vibratory pan that conveys food product in other embodiments and previous apparatuses.
While this invention has been described in conjunction with the exemplary embodiment outlined above, various alternatives, modifications, variations, improvements, and/or substantial equivalents, whether known or that are or may be presently unforeseen, may become apparent to those having at least an ordinary skill in the art. Accordingly, the exemplary embodiments of the invention as set forth above are intended to be illustrative, not limiting. Various changes may be made without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention. Therefore, the invention is intended to embrace all known or earlier developed alternatives, modifications variations, improvements and/or substantial equivalents.